In a freak accident on January 6, the stick of New York Ranger Chris Higgins got caught for a moment on Ribeiro’s throat. The impact caused swelling and Ribeiro had difficulty breathing. He was taken to a New York hospital where he stayed for about a week after undergoing emergency surgery. He wasn’t allowed to participate in any physical activities in the weeks after in fear that his throat would swell up and prevent him from breathing.
“Usually when players get injured they are at least able to keep their aerobic condition up to some state, but he couldn’t do anything,” coach Marc Crawford explained. “That’s a rarity. That injury has only happened three times that they could look up. It is a very, very strange injury.”
Although no player wants to miss any games, especially under such conditions, the time away gave Ribeiro a chance to step back and analyze the first half of his season.
“The time off benefited me mentally for sure,” Ribeiro said. “I had some time to watch games and just see what I was doing wrong and what I could do better. I usually don’t like missing games because it’s harder to come back and play as hard, but it has definitely helped. I am now trying to play better defensively, not trying to overdo it. I don’t think I could have at first. I had a hard time breathing the first few games. My play is now more on being in position and playing smart.”
The time for reflection seems to have worked for Ribeiro who appeared to have no problems as he made his big return February 9 in Chicago, scoring a goal in the first period.
“I was really excited,” Ribeiro said of scoring the goal. “You never know when you come back, some guys will take 10 games before they score. To score in the first game takes a lot of pressure out.”
The coaching staff wanted to ease him back in to the game and limit his time on ice in his return, but Ribeiro came back full-force, making it difficult to bench him. He played an astonishing 17:09 in Chicago. In the three games before the Olympic break, Ribeiro tallied two power play goals, a short-handed goal and two assists.
“He played well those three games coming back,” Crawford said. “I would have to say those last two weeks before the Olympic break, you could just see fatigue really setting in on not only our team, but on a lot of teams. Mike Ribeiro
came in and gave us a huge shot of offensive production and it was at a time where offense was hard to come by in the league in general. He’s carried that on. He worked pretty diligently over the break to try and maintain and improve his conditioning level. It’s difficult when you have an injury like he did where you were prohibited from any kind of activity for such a long period of time.”
Since the break, the Stars have struggled to continue with the momentum they had built up in February, but that hasn’t stopped Ribeiro. He has been reunited with longtime line mate Brenden Morrow
. The duo has been paired together for most of Ribeiro’s four seasons in Dallas due to their undeniable chemistry on the ice.
“We’ve been on and off the same line all year,” Ribeiro said. “I’ve been all over the place with every line. To have him back, we’re trying to do good things for the team which is nice. Every time we get back together we seem happy. It’s easier to play. Hopefully we can keep going that way.”
The recent addition of right wing Brandon Segal has provided the Ribeiro-Morrow combination with a solid, big-body guy to complement their opposite styles of play. To Ribeiro, Segal is a natural fit for the line.
“He’s been great,” Ribeiro says. “It’s nice to have a right-handed shot, it gives you different space on the ice to pass the puck and get scoring chances. He’s a big boy, too. He can throw the body. He has a great shot. It’s just a matter of getting used to each other and what everyone likes to do.”
It appears it hasn’t taken long for the trio to get used to one another. They have been the top scoring line for Dallas since the Stars claimed Segal off waivers February 11.
“I think you’re seeing that line score a few more quiet area goals because of [the addition of Segal],” Crawford said. “Mike Ribeiro
is a terrific playmaker and sees the ice so well. Brenden Morrow
knows how Mike plays. Brandon is now recognizing if he keeps his stick on the ice, if he gets into a scoring position and if he goes hard to the net, a lot of times the puck finds its way to his stick.”
The instant chemistry along with Ribeiro’s playmaking vision has helped Segal’s transition to his new team be smooth and very productive.
“With Ribs’ skill, it’s easier for Morrow or me to get open,” Segal explains. “We know that we’re going to get the puck. We’ve just been taking it to the net and obviously helping create space for each other. It’s really been working for us. Getting in on the points, on the goals has really definitely helped me fit in. It’s always nice to get off to a fast start. I can’t ask for anything better, especially for playing with two great line mates like that. You know that they’re going to be going every night.”
Ribeiro’s consistent play is also due to the fact that he and the Stars are playing every other day. Because of the league’s two-week hiatus for the Olympics, the schedule had to be condensed, forcing most teams to only have one day between games for the remainder of the season. Although most would think playing so often would be exhausting and lead to a decline in play, Ribeiro says the opposite is true for him.
“I think you get used to it,” he says. “We’re used to playing every second day and it’s better. You’re into it. At the beginning of the year, we would have three games in four nights and then have four or five days in between games. To play every second game, you don’t have all the time to think about the mistakes you made in a game. You have to focus for the next one.”
Ribeiro’s resiliency and ability to take any obstacles in stride couldn’t be more beneficial to Dallas. The center has scored eight goals and seven assists in 15 games since his return. With nine games left in the regular season, the Stars are going to need Ribeiro to continue to play at the top of his game as they make one last push at the playoffs.